MANILA – The Department of Education said Monday it is exercising “extreme caution” as it prepares for a dry run of in-person classes next month in areas with low risk of COVID-19 transmission.
The department said it consulted representatives from different sectors to come up with a “risk-informed approach” in reopening schools, a suggestion made last week by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“We understand from these engagements that clear policies and preventive measures are needed to eliminate the risk of infection among our teachers and learners,” the agency said in a statement, where it thanked UNICEF for supporting the upcoming dry run.
“It is precisely why we are approaching this pilot implementation with extreme caution,” it added.
The DepEd reiterated it would be “highly selective” about schools that would participate in the pilot implementation.
“Health standards will be strictly enforced on school premises, during travel, and at home. Participation of learners will also be voluntary, with requisite permit from parents,” the DepEd said.
“Face-to-face classes will be conducted under staggered or intermittent schedule and class size will be reduced to allow proper physical distancing in the classroom,” it said.
DepEd’s regional directors have nominated 1,114 schools for the dry run but the actual number of participating schools, which will be announced on Dec. 28, is expected to be much lower.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones has said students were less likely to contract the new coronavirus in schools, citing a UNICEF report.
In a review of evidence on in-person schooling and COVID-19 transmission published last Dec. 10, UNICEF found that “in-person schooling does not appear to be the main driver of infection spikes” in communities.
Still, many continue to express concerns that students and teachers will be exposed to COVID-19 during the dry run. Experts earlier warned that children can become “silent spreaders” of the respiratory illness, which has sickened 461,505 in the country.
President Rodrigo Duterte approved the dry run for in-person classes after seeing that distance learning in Philippine schools was “far from ideal.” He earlier said he would not allow physical classes until a COVID-19 vaccine is available in the country.